Everyone is familiar with the college student stereotype: they are “broke”; emotionally and financially. These stereotypes are even more true for commuter students. As a first year college student that chose to commute to classes everyday instead of staying on campus, I have realized that spending way too much money has become a daily habit for me. The absence of on campus benefits such as “Bear Bucks” can cause the prices to increase even more quickly. My goal is to warn incoming freshmen of the ways excess money can sneak up on them, how they can escape the sticky fingers of overspending, and some tips with budgeting that I have found useful throughout my experience.
Throughout my first year as a student at the University of Pikeville I have realized some things consume more of my money than others. Some of the main things that I have realized that causes me to spend some extra money is: gas, eating out, and unnecessary shopping habits. Gas is something that does not really have an alternative; however, there are ways you can learn to save on gas and alternate routes you can find. Eating out excessively is something that can cause you to lose a lot of money very quickly, as well. Without Bear Bucks (a prepaid meal plan) on campus, it quickly became a habit for me to get a coffee before class, a smoothie after class, and Chick-fil-A for lunch or before I left campus. Doing this one or two days a week is not really that big of a deal; however, doing this 4-5 days a week can really get out of control fast. The average student spends between $163 and $367 a month on eating costs alone (BeJelly 2019). Another thing that I have found myself really spending a lot of money on is unnecessary shopping. Coming from a small town and going to Pikeville is a big transition. My town has nothing but an IGA and Dollar Stores whereas Pikeville has what seems to be everything. I often find myself in Ulta, Marshall’s, or Ross more days of the week than not. This is a very bad habit to get and sometimes it is better to refrain or promise yourself you can go another day so maybe you will eventually forget about it. This is something I have really struggled with and I am positive another student will have the same issues!
Upon discussing the ways money can often be abused as a commuter student, the question “how can I save money?” is always present. The best ways I have found to save money is: carpooling, packing lunch, and budgeting. Finding a friend to carpool with extremely helps with gas money! Even if they do not live in the same town as you, cutting your drive short even by a couple miles will help tremendously. In addition to that, I have also found that gas prices in my town are a lot higher than those in Pikeville; therefore, I always plan to fill up my car on my way home while I am still in Pike County. Even if the difference in gas prices is 3 cents, those 3 cents will add up over time. Every cent that you save helps! Along with gas prices, food can get very expensive very quickly. I have found the best way to save money on food is to meal prep and pack lunch. Sometimes I like to make it fun and bring snacks/pack lunch for the friend that I carpool with. We do this for each other so it helps us save money while also bringing a little excitement/surprise to our day! Not only does it help you save money, but it is a lot healthier as well. According to the North Shore University System, “With proper planning, you can prevent making unnecessary food purchases, saving you money and reducing food waste.” The freshman 15 is such a true thing, and packing your lunch can help avoid unwanted weight gain. Along with gas prices and meal prepping, I have also found that budgeting my money is extremely helpful for unwanted spending on unnecessary items. For example, I give myself around $75 a month to spend on “wants”. How I choose to spend that money is my own decision. Sometimes I spend it on nails, other times clothes and food, and sometimes on other people such as my brother, my fiancé, my parents or even my dog. Budgeting helps save money while also keeping you very responsible. It allows you to have fun, and save money at the same time. According to Great Lakes, “Budgeting is important for your financial stability, ensuring you can pay common expenses like rent, tuition, student loans, credit card bills, and entertainment.” Not only does budgeting have short-term benefits, but long term as well.
When I chose to commute to college instead of living on campus, I expected it to help me save a lot of money. However, I was very misled. If you are going into college with no advice on ways that life can get expensive very quickly and what to watch out for, along with tips on budgeting, you can catch yourself spending just as much money as you would have if you had paid for a dorm. For the first couple weeks of my college experience, I spent way more money than I had ever expected. I hope I can help another college student avoid the unnecessary costs that my bank account suffered from.
Bejelly, Kelly, “How Much Do College Students Spend On Food?” A Girl Worth Saving, 30 May 2020, agirlworthsaving.net/2019/06/how-much-do-college-students-spend-on-food.html.
“Budgeting Tips for Students – Great Lakes.” My Great Lakes, mygreatlakes.org/educate/knowledge-center/successful-budgeting.html.
“Meal Preparation: What Is It, and Why Should You Start?” NorthShore, www.northshore.org/healthy-you/meal-preparation/.